NASA Awards Launch Contract to SpaceX for X-Ray Satellite Mission

Falcon 9 launches CRS-17 mission. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission, which will allow astronomers to discover, for the first time, the hidden details of some of the most exotic astronomical objects in our universe.

The total cost for NASA to launch IXPE is approximately $50.3 million, which includes the launch service and other mission-related costs.

IXPE measures polarized X-rays from objects, such as black holes and neutron stars to better understand these types of cosmic phenomena and extreme environments.

The IXPE mission currently is targeted to launch in April 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. IXPE will fly three space telescopes with sensitive detectors capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing scientists to answer fundamental questions about these turbulent environments where gravitational, electric and magnetic fields are at their limits.

NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the SpaceX launch service. The IXPE project office is located at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and is managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about NASA programs and missions, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

NASA’s TESS Mission Finds Its Smallest Planet Yet

The three planets discovered in the L98-59 system by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) are compared to Mars and Earth in order of increasing size in this illustration. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

By Jeanette Kazmierczak
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered a world between the sizes of Mars and Earth orbiting a bright, cool, nearby star. The planet, called L 98-59b, marks the tiniest discovered by TESS to date.

(more…)

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — 5:32 p.m. Eastern Time on June 18, 2019, marks 10 years since the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Its contributions to the fields of lunar science and exploration are unmatched: it has provided the largest volume of data ever collected by a planetary science mission.

(more…)

NASA Prepares to Launch Twin Satellites to Study Signal Disruption From Space

This visualization shows the relative density of certain particles in Earth’s ionosphere. The E-TBEx CubeSats will explore how signals from satellites to Earth can be disrupted as they pass through this region. (Credits: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s twin E-TBEx CubeSats — short for Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment — are scheduled to launch in June 2019 aboard the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2 launch. The launch includes a total of 24 satellites from government and research institutions. They will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(more…)

NASA Eyes Sounding Rocket Launches From Australia

A Black Brant IX sounding rockets lifts off from the Wallops Flight Facility with the ASPIRE experiment on board on Sept. 7, 2018. (Credit: NASA/Allison Stancil)

ADELAIDE, South Australia, 31 May 2019 (Australia Space Agency PR) — NASA is looking to Australian company Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) to conduct rocket launches.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Wallops Flight Facility has indicated it would like to progress discussions with ELA on their 2020 sounding rocket campaign. The campaign would provide temporary southern hemisphere launch facilities for sounding rockets for scientific investigations.

The proposed launch activities fall under the Space Activities Act 1998. The amended legislation to come into effect on 31 August 2019 (the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018). The Australian Space Agency is responsible for administering this legislation, including the relevant licenses and permits for launch sites and launch activities.

The Agency is also currently consulting with industry on draft rules under the amended Act. Ensuring the rules are in place for space activities is a priority for the Agency.

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr Megan Clark AC said, “NASA’s interest in conducting a sounding rocket campaign in Australia shows the increasing importance of commercial launch activities from Australia.

“As these activities build momentum, the Agency will continue its focus on creating a supportive regulatory environment that fosters industry growth, while ensuring public safety and considering our international obligations.”

Robotic Refueling Mission 3 Can’t Perform Cryogenic Fuel Transfer

Edward Cheung, an engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, performs a fit check of RRM3’s three external tools. After RRM3 is installed to the outside of International Space Station the Dextre robotic arm will mount the pedestal and tools, pre-assembled by astronauts on the space station. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Chris Gunn)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On April 8, the Robotic Refueling Mission 3 (RRM3) aboard the International Space Station started experiencing issues powering up its cryogen coolers that maintain the temperature of liquid methane contained within the module. After several troubleshooting attempts, it was determined the coolers could not be powered up. As a result, the temperature of the liquid began to rise. The liquid methane turned into a gas and was safely vented from the payload. There was no impact to other station systems or operations.

While RRM3 can no longer perform a cryogenic fuel transfer, its four months on station taught NASA about the technology needed to store and transfer cryogenic fuel in space. The mission will carry out other planned operations with servicing and inspection tools. Ultimately, RRM3 will still help bring NASA closer to replenishing cryogenic fuel in space so spacecraft can live longer and journey farther into the solar system.

RRM3 launched to the space station in December 2018 and is installed to the outside of station on Express Logistics Carrier-1.

Inspector General: NASA Goddard Lags in Tech Transfer

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is lagging behind three other agency centers when it comes to transferring technology to the private sector, according to a new audit by the Office of Inspector General. [Full Report]

“Goddard…is experiencing poor technology transfer performance outcomes when compared to the other three NASA Centers we reviewed, to include a lower percentage of licenses as well as delays in processing of [New Technology Reports] and patent applications,” the audit said.

(more…)

Meteoroid Strikes Eject Precious Water From Moon

Artist’s concept of the LADEE spacecraft (left) detecting water vapor from meteoroid impacts on the Moon (right). (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab)

by Elizabeth Zubritsky
NASA

Researchers from NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, report that streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infuse the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor.

The findings will help scientists understand the history of lunar water — a potential resource for sustaining long term operations on the Moon and human exploration of deep space. Models had predicted that meteoroid impacts could release water from the Moon as a vapor, but scientists hadn’t yet observed the phenomenon.

(more…)

IG: NASA Needs to Better Document Cost Savings on Services Contracts

NASA needs better methods to track its efforts to minimize costs on the more than $16 billion worth of engineering and technical services the space agency purchases annually, according to a new audit by the Inspector General (IG).

[Full Report — PDF]

“Although NASA has a variety of mechanisms at the Headquarters and Center levels to share lessons learned, many of these are informal, dependent upon personal relationships between Centers, and not focused on sharing information on efficiencies,” the audit said.

(more…)

OSIRIS-REx Discovers Particle Plumes Erupting from Bennu’s Surface

This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on January 19 was created by combining two images taken on board NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Other image processing techniques were also applied, such as cropping and adjusting the brightness and contrast of each image. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. Bennu also revealed itself to be more rugged than expected, challenging the mission team to alter its flight and sample collection plans, due to the rough terrain.

(more…)

A Region of Bennu’s Northern Hemisphere Close Up

Closeups of asteroid Bennu taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

This trio of images acquired by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows a wide shot and two close-ups of a region in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The wide-angle image (left), obtained by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera, shows a 590-foot (180-meter) wide area with many rocks, including some large boulders, and a “pond” of regolith that is mostly devoid of large rocks.

The two closer images, obtained by the high-resolution PolyCam camera, show details of areas in the MapCam image, specifically a 50-foot (15 meter) boulder (top) and the regolith pond (bottom). The PolyCam frames are 101 feet (31 meters) across and the boulder depicted is approximately the same size as a humpback whale.

The images were taken on February 25 while the spacecraft was in orbit around Bennu, approximately 1.1 miles (1.8 km) from the asteroid’s surface. The observation plan for this day provided for one MapCam and two PolyCam images every 10 minutes, allowing for this combination of context and detail of Bennu’s surface.

“Goldilocks” Stars May Be “Just Right” for Finding Habitable Worlds

This is an artist’s concept of a planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a K star. (Credits: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/Tim Pyle)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Scientists looking for signs of life beyond our solar system face major challenges, one of which is that there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy alone to consider. To narrow the search, they must figure out: What kinds of stars are most likely to host habitable planets?

(more…)

Five Teams Win NASA DALI Awards to Advance Future Lunar Missions

This artist’s rendition shows the LEMS concept, an environmental monitoring station on the Moon. (Credits: NASA)

By Lori Keesey
NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — When NASA solicits future investigations of the Moon five teams involving scientists and engineers at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will be ready.

The agency’s Development and Advancement of Lunar Instrumentation, or DALI, program recently awarded 10 teams funding to mature spacecraft-based instruments for use in future lander missions, including those offered by commercial ventures through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. These instruments are expected to reach a high level of technology readiness by the time funding ends in three years.

(more…)

NASA Set to Demonstrate X-ray Communications in Space

This image shows the Modulated X-ray Source, a key component in NASA’s first-ever demonstration of X-ray communication in space. (Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — A new experimental type of deep space communications technology is scheduled to be demonstrated on the International Space Station this spring.

Currently, NASA relies on radio waves to send information between spacecraft and Earth. Emerging laser communications technology offers higher data rates that let spacecraft transmit more data at a time. This demonstration involves X-ray communications, or XCOM, which offers even more advantages.

(more…)

NASA to Advance Unique 3D Printed Sensor Technology

Technologist Mahmooda Sultana holds an early iteration of an autonomous multifunctional sensor platform, which could benefit all of NASA’s major scientific disciplines and efforts to send humans to the Moon and Mars. (Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk)

By Lori Keesey
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

A NASA technologist is taking miniaturization to the extreme.

Mahmooda Sultana won funding to advance a potentially revolutionary, nanomaterial-based detector platform. The technology is capable of sensing everything from minute concentrations of gases and vapor, atmospheric pressure and temperature, and then transmitting that data via a wireless antenna — all from the same self-contained platform that measures just two-by-three-inches in size.

(more…)